Mosul’s Renowned Religious Complex Will Rise From the Rubble

Iraqi security personnel taking a selfie in front of the remains of Al Nuri Grand Mosque in Mosul last year.

BAGHDAD — The scars of battle remain deeply etched into the geography of Iraq’s second-largest city, Mosul, with thousands of homes, buildings and places of worship destroyed during the nine-month fight to oust the Islamic State.

But now, thanks to a donation of $50 million from the United Arab Emirates, one of the ancient city’s most renowned landmarks will rise from the rubble: Al Nuri Grand Mosque and its storied minaret.

The announcement this week of a five-year plan to rebuild Mosul’s centuries-old religious complex represents the largest cultural restoration project in Iraq, according to United Nations officials overseeing the project.

Noura al-Kaabi, the U.A.E. culture minister, said her nation’s involvement was intended to help Iraqi scholars and cultural leaders restore Mosul’s cosmopolitan heritage as a place of learning, culture and diversity, and not only help repair its roads, schools and hospitals.

“The U.A.E. supports the efforts of our Iraqi brothers to push the wheel of construction especially in terms of historical monuments,” Ms. Kaabi said at a ceremony at Iraq’s national museum in Baghdad. “Heritage is one of the cornerstones of civilization.”

Built in 1172, the minaret was approximately 145 feet tall and decorated with ornamental brickwork that was renowned during that period, widely considered a golden age of Islamic architecture and art. Medieval travelers wrote glowing descriptions of Mosul, especially the leaning minaret that local residents nicknamed Al Hudba, or the hunchback.

The leaning tower came to define Mosul much like the arch in St. Louis, Mo. It towered over the skyline and symbolized the city’s reputation as an ancient place of learning and beauty.

Al Hudba was so firmly etched into the city’s identity that in the early 20th century, when the Iraqi antiquities authority decided to renovate the Nuri complex, they left the minaret as it was.

The minaret was later chosen to adorn Iraq’s 10,000 dinar note, cementing its place as one of the country’s best-known landmarks.

Then came the Islamic State.

In June 2014, Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, the head of the group, announced the formation of his self-declared caliphate from the pulpit of Al Nuri Mosque, ushering in the group’s fanatical reign which punished Muslims and non-Muslims alike for disobeying its rigid interpretation of Islam.

Last year, when Iraqi security forces were struggling to oust Islamic State fighters from Mosul, fighters destroyed Al Hudba and the mosque, striking an emotional body blow to many Iraqis.

“I was less than 100 meters away when the terrorists blew up Al Hudba — it enraged me because we had entered Mosul with the express intent of saving our heritage,” said Brig. Gen. Abdul-Wahab al-Saadi, the deputy commander of Iraq’s counterterrorism forces during the Mosul operation. “The fact that our culture and historic places will be restored makes me very happy. That was what we were fighting for.”

Iraq has struggled to attract the estimated $100 billion that government officials say is necessary to rebuild whole cities and communities destroyed by the Islamic State. Many Iraqi historians have said they are worried that cultural heritage will be pushed down the list of priorities as a result.

The United Arab Emirates government has been in discussions since February with Unesco, the Paris-based United Nations cultural agency, about the Mosul project. The Emirati funds have gone to the agency, which will work with Iraq’s culture ministry, its Sunni religious endowment and the International Center for the Study of the Preservation and Restoration of Cultural Property.

Building, however, will be a long time coming, these officials say.

The first year of the project will be devoted to clearing rubble from the site of the mosque and minaret and to completing architectural studies of the site.

Other sites including ancient gardens are also part of the rebuilding plan, as is a memorial and museum.

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